Of all the elements to the writing craft, which one is most important to you as a writer and/or a reader? Bonus points if you can give examples of novels that exemplify your answer.
Below is my attempt to list Craft Elements. Did I leave anything out?
Narrowing things down to one seems like playing that game where you have to remove blocks of wood and hope the whole structure doesn’t fall. Jenga?
About the only one I could remove from your list would be “theme” because thinking about that reminds me of high school lit class. But all the rest are, or should be, impossible to remove without hurting the book. And too much of most of them are just as much of a problem.
The question is-which one is most important to YOU. I try to incorporate all the elements, as you do, but the ones that hit me first (& inspire the work most) are character & plot. I may see one story as more driven by a plot I like, while another story is inspired by a character I can’t get out of my head.
I know. It’s not an easy answer. Thanks Terry,
Because of my background in writing and teaching, I’m pretty dang picky so I expect all of the above done very well. In a competent book, however, the deal breaker for me is motivation, but the motivation is two sided. The main characters and bad guy have to have good motivation, but the writer has to give me the motivation to continue. In a mystery, the main reason I lose my motivation is most often the victim. If he’s such a scum bag that I only want to find the killer to thank him and I have no other reason to care if the main character finds him, I put down the book. This problem is surprisingly frequent.
Looking at bestselling authors who have notoriously bad craft yet have survived through the years, Dan Brown and Danielle Steele to name a few, I’d say the ability to tell a good story which is mainly plot with an archetypal yet bland main character is their saving grace.
Well, that’s interesting. I agree on your character motivation point. I often read books where a character is TSTL (an acronym I heard about from an editor), meaning “too stupid to live.” Sometimes as author has such a strong twist in their mind, they lose perspective on reality & don’t think a character’s options through.
Thanks, Marilynn. Thought provoking.
Character is numero uno for me. If characters have enough problems, life experience, and depth, they can usually find sufficient trouble to get into to sustain a plot.
Marilynn, what an articulate summary of many mega bestsellers! “Archetypal yet bland” leaves me cold.
I can see that in your writing, Debbie. You are definitely character driven. I love the depth of your characters. Very relatable.
The way I see it, Voice is the vector through which character, setting, plot and all the rest make it to the reader’s brain. Without the voice, nothing else works.
I agree with Mr. Gilstrap.
Hi, Brian. *waving from Texas*
Wow. Unexpected but thought provoking. I love this, John. Thank you.
Style/voice are important to me. I’ve recently discovered Charles Martin. His style and voice are what keeps me coming back for more. I just finished his “When Crickets Cry”. That story will stay with me for a long while.
And as for motivation, I agree that it has to be real, believable, and compelling. I read a novel within the last year that, when I finished it, I could not for the life of me figure out why those people did what they did. It left me with an empty feeling, like nothing was important to the characters, so why should any of it be important to me? Maybe that’s what the author was going for, but I don’t want my stories to be like that.
Thanks for the book recommendation. I like your comment, Deb. Thank you.
It all has to work, of course. So in a way, the “most important” is the area a writer needs to work on to up his game. Thus, it can change–and should–over time. I’ll put a good word in for dialogue. It’s the the fastest way to improve…or deflate…a manuscript.
Good word, Mr. Bell.
So, based on “the ‘most important’ is the area a writer needs to work on to up his game”, being a WIP myself (as an author), the most important would be the entire list!
Need to get crackin’ on it…I’ll come up for air in a bit.
I love great dialogue. When it doesn’t work, it’s painfully obvious.
Does getting one’s butt in a chair and typing on a regular basis count as craft? 😉
Actually, no, but I wish you luck.
Discipline is a good practice. Points for that.
Character. I think voice, plot, dialogue and setting are important to a good book, but without interesting characters everything else pales. After all, isn’t good dialogue driven by unique or interesting characters?
My example is Hannibal Lecter. He is what Silence of the Lambs is most known for. Even people who haven’t read the book or seen the film have heard of Hannibal Lecter.
Good example. Thank you, Linda.
Mystery is my favorite genre. Plot is the most important element in what I write and read. Plotting the plot is my favorite part – researching and outlining. Sitting on the floor surrounded by the fruits of my labor is my happy place.
What disappoints me when it comes to plot is when the whole story is based on a lie told in chapter one. If the character had told the truth the story would be over. That should be a warning on the back cover so I would know not to pick it up. The exception is Sophia Kinsella, that’s the point of her stories – look at the mess you weave when your go to is dishonesty.
What carries my stories is dialogue. I like to write legal mysteries with the POV character being an attorney. Most of the ‘trouble’ stems from something in the clients history and naturally ends up coming out in conversation, and of course the trial and motion hearings are almost all dialogue.
Yes yes & yes about a well-motivated plot with legit twists.
In crime fiction, I love clever interrogations or the game of cat & mouse in dialogue between two characters in conflict.